Orange reign: Gore Rangers win it all
COMMERCE CITY — Vail Mountain School has its soccer crown.
The Gore Rangers girls soccer team is the 2A state champion after a 2-1 win against Dawson School on an improbable Tess Johnson goal with 3:25 left in regulation at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Tuesday.
Paint the state of Colorado orange, people.
“It was the perfect moment, and I’ll never forget it for the rest of my life,” said senior co-captain Kristen Vossler, who accepted the state-championship trophy for VMS. “It was really the perfect moment. It’s the perfect moment to end my senior year.”
And for the record, it’s hefty piece of hardware.
“It’s amazing. I don’t know. It’s so overwhelming and it’s so exciting,” said goalie Holly Parker, who stopped nine of 10 Dawson shots. “To be able to be on the first state champion for soccer at VMS — and this is my first year at goalie — is super exciting. And I’m so happy to be able to give this to the seniors.”
While Vail Mountain School has been playing soccer as far back as the 1970s, the Gore Rangers had never hosted a trophy. However, the school’s history was on display at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park with everyone from state Sen. Michael Johnston and other former players to what seemed like most of the current student body in attendance.
“What is striking to me is the deep meaning that this has for all our alumni in the messages we got from around the world,” said VMS coach Bob Bandoni, whose soccer lineage at the school goes back to 1984. “Mike Johnston hugging me with tears in his eyes and thanking me and all of them identifying with the team and seeing the team’s accomplishment as finishing what they began. That’s the significance for me. It becomes such a historical thread, all in the background in orange.”
Not easy this time
While the orange faithful, which handily outnumbered its Dawson counterparts, probably would have liked it, there was no repeat of VMS’ 4-0 rout of the Mustangs during the regular season.
Tess Johnson scored in the fifth minute on a helper from Grace Merriman, but all was not well. Understandably, the Gore Rangers were a bit awed by the surroundings as Dick’s Sporting Goods Park seats 18,000 people, or about 17,500 more than their home pitch, Bandoni Alumni Field.
Throw in introductions on the gigantic video board at the north end of the stadium and hearts were racing a little faster.
“It’s been my dream to play on this field since I saw the Colorado Rapids and the U.S. National Women’s Team,” Vossler said.
That excitement led to disorganization in the back and a goal in the 12th minute from Dawson’s Sophie Brussell. And the scoring stalemate began.
“I thought they were very stubborn in the final third of the field,” Bandoni said of Dawson. “You could see that we tried to unbalance them to open some lane. They were tough. They were relentless in their work ethic, and it made it tough for us to punch through.”
The field tilts
In a preplanned move, the Gore Rangers adjusted at halftime. Bandoni and company inserted senior Griffin Mueller in as an extra midfielder and moved Johnson up in the formation.
The reasoning behind the move was that VMS was playing the ball well to the flanks on the spacious pitch but not getting enough pressure up the middle.
As the minutes of the second half ticked by, the Gore Rangers continued to get opportunities, but they could not crack the puzzle of Dawson’s defense and its keeper Nicole Towner.
VMS thought it had its goal in the 52nd, but Johnson’s strike went off the cross bar. One could be forgiven for getting flashbacks to Battle Mountain’s 2012 state run, which had to go to kicks before the Huskies prevailed.
Though VMS had the preponderance of chances, this one seemed headed to overtime, until Emma Hall and Johnson hooked up.
Hall came down the left side with less than four minutes left in regulation and crossed it to Johnson on the left side of the box.
Johnson shot and Towner went to her right and appeared to have the save. But the ball went through her hands and rolled past the line for the game-winner with 3:25 left in the game.
“I got it on my feet and got a touch and just shot it really hard on goal,” Johnson said. “The keeper was playing a great second half and she got her hands on it and it just rolled in. But I think the reason it went in was that I hit it really hard.”
In fairness to VMS, the flow of play made it just result. On the other hand, one feels for Towner, who appeared devastated at the end of the game.
“When I saw that happen, I thought I wouldn’t want to change anything because we got the win,” Parker said. “But from a keeper’s standpoint of few, I felt really bad. That is the worst feeling having something go through your hands like that. I definitely felt for her.”
And that set up the longest 3:25 in Vail Mountain School history.
Dawson had one free kick in the period, but the defense held. At the whistle, the orange end of the stands exploded. Bandoni hugged everyone. VMS players rejoiced with teary hugs.
The celebration continued as the players crossed the field and went into to the stands to find their families and friends. That continued with an impromptu singing of the school’s fight song in the middle of the concourse.
“It’s just surreal,” VMS midfielder Sydney Sappenfield said. “It’s been a great year. We have great players, and Bandoni has coached us so well. It’s been great to have him back. We had a great season. We played our game.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, email@example.com and @cfreud.